An Ode to Curiosity

What separates the dreamers from the strivers? There are a number of characteristics and personal qualities that distinguish someone who dreams of doing big things and one who actually strives to accomplish these big things. Among these characteristics include commitment, consistency, hard work, patience, perseverance and they are all important for different reasons but the most important characteristics that stands out to me is having curiosity and being willing to learn new things because of that curiosity. If you don’t have any curiosity or willingness to learn how things work and why, you can dream about making an impact all you want but if you aren’t willing to spend time learning about what you’re interested in and what you can improve upon whether physically or mentally, then your goals will likely not be accomplished.

This ability to strive for hard-to-reach goals amid an appetite for education, learning, and overall growth is exemplified by a number of great men and women throughout history. Even when they were unsure that they would not live to see their ideas or their plans come to fruition, their insatiable curiosity was used to move the goal posts forward often to the benefit of humanity as a whole.

I was reminded by this characteristic this past weekend as I went to a really well-done and educational exhibit on 500 Years of Leonardo Da Vinci regarding both his finished and his unfinished works. Books full of notes, dozens of paintings, and sketches, graphs, and illustrations to note what he had in mind for the furthering of humankind. I would say most of what he set out to do during his life was not accomplished during it but what he did was open up the ideas and the possibilities to the rest of the world so that some other engineer or inventor could go all the way to make his vision a reality.

Da Vinci was a genius, but he was also curious about how to bring about new ideas in the world. He did not care if they could never come to fruition or if they failed. Similar to other great inventors, he knew that sometimes you have to try things out one hundred or even one thousand times to get things truly right. You can’t be shy or timid if you have something you think can truly change the world and make it a better place. In some cases, Da Vinci’s ideas where decades or even centuries ahead of time and if more people were curious to the same extent, there is no telling that the 1500s could have been more like the 1900s much quicker.

To understand how to make a man fly in the air or how to bring him back down safely, to figure out how to make cities more livable, and how to engineer machines to bring energy and water to people more easily, these are all monumental tasks that stem from Da Vinci’s trait of having an insatiable curiosity. He was mainly self-educated and self-taught who loved learning about the wonders of the world from engineering to painting to the science of the human body. It is difficult to even comprehend how things would be different today had he been born in the modern era instead of during the renaissance era.

He was almost superhuman in his drive and in his motivation but what all of us can have in common with Da Vinci is to awaken the innate curiosity or curiosities inside of us. Few of us today, if any, will have the curiosity matched by the genius and intellect of a Da Vinci but all of us are curious about something and we want to do our best to master it. For some of us, it’s our curiosity to play a piece of music perfectly without stopping.

For others, it’s about solving an almost impossibly hard equation that could have real-world consequences. Whether it is art, science(s), programming, mathematics, politics, etc., you have to find out what you are curious about and how you can use your curiosity to further advancements and developments in any of these fields. You may only have curiosity about a particular field, but it is your prerogative then to be the best you can in that field in order to get that sense of fulfillment.

Leonardo Da Vinci was a special person and a once-in-a-lifetime talent whose likes we may have seen the last of but what he represents is our drive as human beings to reach new heights and to challenge past notions of what is and what isn’t possible. During his relatively short life, he was able to accomplish so much in different areas of human endeavor and still has had an impact on the world today more than 500 years after his death. He is an example of what is possible if you set your mind and your body to quenching your curiosity and leaving your mark on the world in some small way.

Even if you are not recognized during your life, it is important to keep notes, drawings, illustrations, and records of your hard work so that someone may be able to pick up the torch after you and carry it forward. Sharing your thought process and your ideas with the world long after your time on Earth comes to an end is the closest a person can get to a sense of immortality.

Da Vinci may not have made man fly during his lifetime or made them capable of constructing his idea of the perfect city, but he was able to leave detailed blueprints for other engineers and inventors to carry forward with their own innate sense of curiosities. Having an insatiable curiosity and a powerful imagination can drive you even when you have tried your 100th or 1000th idea. If you are curious, passionate, and willing to fail more than you will likely succeed, you will be sure of having some impact on the world and a chance to be remembered by others long after you have gone.

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Movie Recommendations – Volume III

Movie Recommendations – November 2019

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‘Eastern Promises’ (2007) is an excellent film focusing on the role of a mysterious hitman / bodyguard for the Russian Mafia who is forced to be drawn into a situation which forces him to take drastic measures to hide his true intentions. He must do this while protecting a woman who cares for a baby born out of wedlock whose mother died of a heroin addiction after being forced into prostitution. The man must choose where his loyalties lie as he becomes more and more intertwined with his allegiance to the mafia and his affection for the woman caring for the baby and her family.

The man is Nikolai Luzhin, played by the brilliant Viggo Mortensen, whose Russian accent and tattoos make him as feared as he is believable as a Russian gangster caught in the middle between his obligations to his mafia superiors and those of to the British-Russian midwife, Anna Khitrova, played by the excellent Naomi Watts, who pleads for his help and assurance of safety, when she comes upon the newborn baby of mysterious origins. The film’s title says it all in many ways as both of the main characters struggle to hold on to the ‘Eastern Promises’ they are sworn to uphold either by allegiance or by a simple diary left by a dying woman who fears for the future of her baby.

From beginning to end, the film ‘Eastern Promises’ is unique in its subject matter, its portrayal of the inner workings of the Russian mafia, and for the dramatic storyline that leaves you in suspense until the final scene. There are a few plot twists that make the experience even more enriching along with the brutal and realistic fight scenes that are enthralling. Above all else, Viggo Mortensen gives a thrilling performance for someone who had to exert a lot of effort to play a Russian gangster with the tattoos and the accent to show for it. I highly recommend this film.


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‘Ad Astra’ (2019) was an underwhelming box office hit but it was critically acclaimed for a number of good reasons. There are a lot of well-done special effects, heavy themes, and good acting performances especially by the legendary Donald Sutherland and Tommy Lee Jones. While it has not gotten much press, I find it to be on par with other great science fiction movies about space that have come out in the past decade including Gravity, Interstellar, and The Martian.

 ‘Ad Astra’ is unique compared to those other films in terms of its plot line and its themes. Roy McBride (played by Brad Pitt) is a decorated and distinguished major in the U.S. Space Command, who is emotionally detached yet very good at what he does regarding being an astronaut. He has both fame and notoriety as the son of Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), who has been gone by Earth for 16 years and last heard from near Neptune from the last transmission. While he does not have a close relationship with his father, a new threat emerging from that part of the Solar System may be related to ‘Project Lima’ that his father captained. Roy is looking for answers and that is why he enlists to find his father, help save the Earth from these electrical surges, and even discover if we are in fact alone in the universe or not.

Without spoiling too much, this film ‘Ad Astra’ does a good job of showing the likely outcome of interstellar space travel to how Moon bases would shape up to be and how Mars would be used for research purposes among other missions. It also shows the dark side of human nature with rogue scavengers carrying out attacks, overt commercialization coming from Earth-based companies to turn the Moon into a shopping mall / food court, as well as the desire to leave Earth to colonize other planets when the one planet we have has all we need in terms of family, nature, and our search for meaning.

Roy’s character transformation throughout the film is the best part of the movie and he is a reliable narrator to show how space travel may change the course of humanity, but it does not change human nature. At the end of the film, you may be asking, why should we be asking if there is life on other planets when we should be valuing the life, we have here on Planet Earth?


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‘Joker’ (2019). What more can I say about a film that has garnered extensive media coverage, been on the subject of many debates, and been both acclaimed and scrutinized for many different reasons? All there is left to say is that one should see it for themselves and cast their own judgment. Overall, the film is a remarkable tour de force with excellent acting, cinematography, and direction along with a brilliant and moving soundtrack. Joaquin Phoenix is a shoo-in for winning Best Actor at next year’s Academy Awards and definitely deserves it. Any actor who can lose 60 pounds (32 kilograms) for a role, develop an insidious laugh, and show a huge range of emotions in all of one scene deserves huge praise and recognition.

I highly recommend seeing the film because it is more than just a movie about the world’s most famous fictional super villain. There are weighty themes that every audience member should think about such as the role of a society in producing a murderer and how we treat mental illness or the lack thereof. It is also about the gap between the rich and the poor as well as how we tend to live separate lives from each other based on our social status, which could lead to inevitable protests and unrest.

The film, in my opinion, does not condone the actions of Arthur Fleck or Joker (Joaquin Phoenix) but it holds a mirror up to the society that makes a man turn to madness and murder in that the very spot-on assumption that we too play a role in creating a monster like that. When certain people, especially the mentally ill, fall through the cracks, bad things can happen, and it is important to serve those people to get the help and care they need.

I think the main lesson of the film can also be that it is important to always do your best to treat others with kindness and respect because you do not know what is going on in their lives. While the ‘Joker’ is a monster and commits heinous acts worthy of severe punishment, this origin story shines a light on a society that fosters a man like him to turn to crime and murder to feel meaning and purpose. While ‘Joker’ is the one who pulls the trigger, it’s clear that had he gotten the help and support he needs as ‘Arthur Fleck’, there would be no ‘Joker’ to begin with.

Tulum

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Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico

“Tudo Bem?”

Tudo bem? or Tudo bom? is a simple yet intriguing greeting that has been one of the most culturally interesting aspects of living in Brazil. You might be thinking what is so interesting about these two words but the greeting itself when you translate it has much more of a significance than what you would think. I find it fascinating for a number of reasons, which I will divulge during this article and it is important to keep in mind that languages including English have different ways in which people can address each other from the very neutral to the very positive.

To give some background first, I have studied a few foreign languages thus far and one of the first things you learn in any language are the greetings / salutations. The way you greet someone in another language can teach you a lot about the culture and also about the country. No one greeting is the same although the meaning is usually quite similar. What has thrown me off about ‘Tudo bem?’ is not just the brevity of it but the significance regarding its inherent positivity. I did not expect this greeting to be so prevalent, but I am fundamentally glad that it is used so regularly.

Let us start by breaking ‘Tudo bem?’ or ‘Tudo bom?’ down in terms of trying to translate it into English, which is not so easy on the surface. You would think it means ‘How are you?’, ‘How is everything going?’ but that is not the right translation. If we are to translate it into English, it would be more like, ‘All is well?’ or ‘Everything good?’. Instead of saying ‘Como vai voce?’ (How are you doing?) or ‘Como voce esta?’ (How are you?), I have been surprised to learn that these greetings are not as popular while ‘Tudo bom?’ or ‘Tudo bem?’ are used frequently in polite greetings whether it is with a shop keeper, bank teller, a cashier, or your neighbor from next door.

What I really like about ‘Tudo bem?’ or ‘Tudo bom?’ is that you are being positive and outgoing right from the start. Even if everything is just okay or you might be having a bad day, it is almost expected to say in response ‘Tudo bem!’ or ‘Tudo bom!’ to indicate that everything is going well and you’re doing fine even if that might be the case. To me, this represents something very unique about Brazilian culture in terms of airing on the side of being positive and upbeat. Even if you are going through some tough times or don’t think everything is alright, you are unconsciously drawn to saying that it is and to stay positive.

You do not have to always respond with ‘Tudo bem’ or ‘Tudo bom’ but during my time here, I have not really heard any answers in Portuguese with the equivalent of ‘I’m doing alright’, or ‘I’m doing okay’, or ‘I’m fine.’ Even rarer would be to say that you are not doing well, or you are sick, or you are tired. ‘Tudo bem?’ is a very casual greeting and it is usually only common to respond with the same reply or with a ‘bem’ (good), ‘bom’ (good), or even ‘tudo certo’ (all right). You don’t really say that you are doing amazing, fantastic, wonderful, or any other exuberant English equivalent when asked about ‘Tudo bem?’ but this kind of greeting in Portuguese is much more positive, and warm than I have encountered with another languages.

Greetings tend to be neutral at the outside when the person asking expects a positive answer, but the response can also be neutral or negative depending on the language used. However, I have found that Portuguese among the languages I know or have studied is the only one which leaves very little room for a neutral or negative response. I do believe that is a good thing although it can be a bit difficult to express those emotions right away. It is kind of expected to start out any interaction on a positive note by saying ‘all is well?’ and ‘all is good?’. Unless you are with a family member or a close friend, it can be tough to really express how you truly feel because they are likely not asking how you really are but just trying to be polite at the outset.

Regardless, when you compare Brazilian Portuguese to English or to Spanish, the initial greeting is much more positive in terms of the translation. While you can say ‘All is well?’ or ‘Everything good?’ in English, these are not really the initial greetings that you would use when you are talking to someone for the first time. It is much more common to say, ‘How are you?’ or ‘How are you doing?’ instead. Saying ‘Hello, all is well?’ or ‘Hello, everything fine?’ at the outside to an English speaker would be a bit strange at first whereas ‘How are you?’ is much more of a common occurrence.

In my opinion, the same could be said with Spanish where you would address someone you have never met before with ‘Como estas?’ or ‘Como vas?’, which is a very similar translation from the English of ‘How are you?’ or ‘How are you doing?’ Now, you could do something similar in Spanish with a greeting of ‘Todo bien?’ which is similar to the meaning of ‘Tudo bem?’ in Portuguese. However, from my own experience, while ‘Todo bien?’ is more acceptable and can be heard from time to time, a more proper greeting in a first interaction with a native Spanish speaker is ‘Como estas?’ rather than ‘Todo bien?’ An exception would be if you had met that person before or a few times previously and consider them to be more than a stranger. That is when ‘Todo bien?’ would be used but not really when you meet someone for the first time.

Lastly, even with Turkish, the last language I have learned, you would say to somebody new: ‘Merhaba, Nasilsin?’ (Hello, how are you?) similarly to English or Spanish but there is no formal greeting used in the Turkish language where you would ask if everything is well right off the bat. In English, Spanish, or Turkish, it seems that the greeting to ask how someone is starts off as being very neutral in its meaning whereas with Brazilian Portuguese, it is fundamentally a different story. Out of all the languages that I have learned and studied, the greeting of ‘Tudo Bem?’ is fundamentally the most optimistic and positive out of all of them.

I have to say that it took me back at first when I arrived in Brazil how common it is and how it is customary to reply with a ‘Tudo bem!’ or ‘Tudo bom!’ in reply, usually with a smile. It is a testament to the positive and upbeat culture where even if you are having a bad day and things aren’t going well, people here try to have a happy outlook on life and to boost their spirits with a ‘Tudo bem?’ and a thumbs up. I am not a psychologist, but I can imagine seeing someone smiling and wishing you a ‘Tudo bem?’ will do wonders for your day and for your overall mood.

If you can learn any two words in Brazilian Portuguese, I would recommend that you first use ‘Tudo bem(?)’ because it is probably the most important words in the language and can both be a great question and a great answer to have under your belt as you navigate this fascinating and unique culture.

Cancun Sunset

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Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Cancun, Mexico

English Corner – An Introduction to Rhetorical Techniques

Rhetorical techniques are used in English writing to convey a meaning or a sentiment that the reader understands and is able to relate to emotionally or otherwise. A technique like a metaphor or a simile is used to persuade a reader to consider the topic being addressed from a different point of view(s).

There are numerous techniques out there, but I would like to focus on the most important ones that come up the most in English writing. Out of the dozens of rhetorical techniques in the English language, I will highlight the most commonly used and the most popular ones that you should know of as a writer.

The first rhetorical techniques I would like to introduce focus on the type of ideas you use in your writing, the emotions and feelings that you are describing, the characterization of the people you are referencing as well as their credibility, and the strength of your argument. These particular techniques are known as Logos, Pathos, Ethos, and Kairos, which are all likely to come up during your writing exercises. You should keep each of them in mind when you are writing and to know which rhetorical technique is which when you use them in your writing.

  • Logos – Logical and Consistent Ideas
  • Pathos – Emotions and Feelings
  • Ethos – Plausibility and Credibility, characterization of the person(s) involved
  • Kairos – Timeliness and relevance of your argument

Here are some additional and commonly used rhetorical techniques as well as some examples of each of them in action when used in a normal sentence.

  • Metaphor – a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action that is not literally applicable.

Example: He is suffering from a broken heart.

  • Cliché – Not an original thought, an opinion or a sentence that has been used many times before.

Example: They really lost track of time when they were studying for the test.

  • Pun – A joke that plays on the possible meanings of a word or a fact.

Example: “I asked my French friend if she wanted to play video games. She said Wii.”  (Oui)

  • Euphemism – A polite or indirect word, expression that is a substitute for something more blunt or severe.

Example: My grandfather passed away last year sadly. (died)

  • Alliteration – The occurrence of the same letter and/or sound at the beginning of closely connected words.

Example: Alice’s aunt ate apples and almonds.

  • Simile – A different figure of speech in which two different, unlikely things are compared to one another.

Example: Her smile is like the shining sun.

  • Analogy – Making a similarity between the features of two things or people and which a comparison can be made.

Example: “Just as a sword is the weapon of a warrior, a pen is the weapon of a writer.”

  • Allegory – A story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to have a hidden meaning.

Example: “When Jack finally finished climbing up the beanstalk even when his Father told him not to, he found an unwelcome surprise at the summit that reminded him of his father’s warning…”

  • Irony – A state of events that seem deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing or bewildering as a result.

Example: Even though John had overslept for the exam and ran all the way to the school to take the exam, his teacher belatedly told him that it was tomorrow, and that today was Sunday.

  • Sarcasm – The use of irony to mock someone or show contempt.

Example: “Tina asked her mother how much her purse had cost her when she bought it. Her mother responded playfully that it was about $20,000 and she had to use Tina’s college savings fund to help pay for it. Tina was upset about her mother’s joke and that she wasn’t being serious with her.”

Here are some of the last major rhetorical techniques to consider during your English grammar studies for writing purposes:

  • Synonyms – Similar in meaning and context with Vocabulary words.
  • Antonyms – Opposite in meaning and Context with Vocabulary words.

Strong – Weak (Antonym)                         Intelligent – Smart (Synonym)

Big – Small (Antonym)                              Caring – Kind (Synonym)

Tall – Short (Antonym)                              Sad – Unhappy (Synonym)

Fat – Thin (Antonym)                                Funny – Humorous (Synonym)

Remember to keep your sentences short and concise as a beginner. As you improve and use correct punctuation, your sentences can become longer and more detailed. Please be sure to focus on the rhetorical techniques that are used the most. There are more than a dozen techniques that you should now be familiar with so try to memorize how, when, and where you use each of them.

Don’t try to memorize all of them but try to become more and more knowledgeable of a few that you recognize that keep coming up again and again. Lastly, do not forget TOP or “Techniques, Order, and Punctuation”, which are the three main concepts that form the basis for correct English writing structure.

Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral and Templo Mayor

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Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Mexico City, Mexico